Key pieces falling into place as St. Pete Pier looks to spring opening

With lots to be done before the Pier District grand opening, city officials are hedging on an exact date, or even month, for the 26-acre project’s unveiling
Work continues on the Tilted Lawn and Pier Plaza area of the new St. Petersburg Pier in September.
Work continues on the Tilted Lawn and Pier Plaza area of the new St. Petersburg Pier in September. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Oct. 31, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Finishing touches are being added to the Pier’s million-dollar playground, the foundation is in for one of Janet Echelman’s famous net sculptures, and the City Council just approved money for courtesy slips to draw boaters to the district’s restaurants and other areas downtown.

Work may be proceeding at a feverish pace to meet an aspirational spring grand opening of the new Pier, but city officials aren’t ready to announce a month -- much less an exact date -- for the unveiling of what is expected to be at least a $92 million project.

RELATED: The St. Pete Pier, now with a price tag of $87 million, has a new opening date in the spring of 2020

"We honestly don’t have a date right now. The good news is, we're getting close. We're within the six-month window," Chris Ballestra, St. Petersburg’s managing director of development coordination said this week.

There's quite a to-do list.

Work to accommodate the Echelman sculpture — measuring 76 feet at its highest point, 428 feet wide at its widest and with 84 miles of twine and more than a million knots — is not quite complete.

The foundation is in place, but pylons to hold up the massive net sculpture will not arrive for another three weeks or so. “It’s a multi-step process to erect the netting,” Ballestra said. “That will take at least two months. We do have some time to get that done, fortunately.”

Echelman is expected to deliver the sculpture within a month or so, he said. "The net then has to be carefully opened and tensioned and released repeatedly so that it is formed properly. The public will see it going up from a distance."

RELATED: Janet Echelman’s reveal strategy, design for St. Pete Pier sculpture draw mixed reaction

Visible now is the playground from Ontario-based Earthscape. The playground equipment has been anchored in place and ground surfaces are about to installed.

A tower that's part of the St. Pete Pier's $1 million playground is being child-tested in Canada by Ontario-based Earthscape Play
A tower that's part of the St. Pete Pier's $1 million playground is being child-tested in Canada by Ontario-based Earthscape Play [ Earthscape Play ]

Meanwhile, dozens of hopefuls are waiting to hear whether they’ve been chosen as vendors for the Pier marketplace. More than 71 applications have been submitted to operate stalls at the marketplace, which initially will offer just 17. Successful applicants will learn soon they’ve been selected.

Ballestra said the city has received a good pool of prospective vendors, many of whom focused on St. Pete themes and on items unique to the city.

“We are not doing food or services. We are doing a variety of types of art and artwork and some accessory items, like handbags, t-shirts and hats,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s got to be something the public is interested in. It’s really a curation process to make sure we provide something for everybody.”

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A key component of the district, about 25 courtesy docks, won’t be ready for the opening. The docks are considered an important amenity, Ballestra said. The $2 million project, being partially funded by a state grant, has long been desired and had been discussed even before the current Pier project, he said.

“On the Intracoastal, you can travel to about 11 restaurants by boat,” he said. Now, St. Petersburg will be able to offer breakwater-protected docks connected to the Pier and with access to museums and restaurants downtown.

Behind the scenes, discussions about naming rights and their potential to generate revenue necessary to operate the 26-acre destination are ongoing. The city has hired Sports & Properties of Raleigh, N.C., to handle this part of the project.

Locations being considered for naming rights include the pavilion, splash pad, marketplace, playground and family park. City officials see selling naming rights as a way to decrease the annual taxpayer subsidy for the Pier.

“We are thrilled about how much interest we have,” City development administrator Alan DeLisle said. “Most of it is local at this point. ... We know that we want to be very careful about how we do this and make sure it’s a good fit for the city and for the interested parties. We have stressed in the past how other areas have done this very tastefully. The mayor has to ultimately feel comfortable with anything that comes about and then we would bring it to the council.”

Ballestra said he doesn’t expect an announcement “in the near future.”